Sunday, January 19, 2014

Taxi (1998)

Director: Gérard Pirès                                  Writer: Luc Besson
Music: Akhenaton                                       Cinematography: Jean-Pierre Sauvaire
Starring: Samy Naceri, Frédéric Diefenthal, Marion Cotillard and Emma Wiklund

Yet another adrenaline rush from the mind of Luc Besson, Taxi is a French film that he wrote four years before the first Transporter film. Those looking for the same kind of vibe as the will probably be disappointed. The film is played much more for laughs and almost borders on farce. As with the Transporter and Taken franchises, Besson deferred the directing chores to someone else, Gérard Pirès, another writer-director who hadn’t really been in the director’s chair for almost twenty years prior to this film. It was something of a renaissance for Pirès who has now done several action films since. It has definitely been a successful series of films but has seemed to run its course with the fourth film which came out back in 2007. The Transporter series, on the other hand, has been greenlighted out through the sixth film.

This film begins with the title credits over the back of a pizza delivery driver on a moped speeding through the streets of Marseille. Turns out it was Samy Naceri just being timed and breaking his previous record. He is leaving the pizza place to get his taxi license and is congratulated with a kiss by Marion Cotillard who has worked with him for several years and the two go home together. As a cabbie he quickly becomes recognized by the cops, however, for the miraculous speeds he drives and their inability to catch him. At the same time the young police inspector Frédéric Diefenthal can’t even pass his driving test and is teased mercilessly by his colleagues, but is most disappointed in being unable to impress the Amazonian Emma Wiklund and get her to go out with him. By coincidence the two meet and Diefenthal threatens to take away Naceri’s drivers license if he doesn’t help him catch a gang of German bank robbers.

As stated earlier, the comedy element is really amped up here, with the bumbling Diefenthal acting as almost a young Inspector Clouseau. During his driving test he smashes right through the front of a butcher shop, and on the first attempt to apprehend the bank robbers, opens his car door which precipitates a giant twenty car pile up. The robbers get away. Naceri has his own comedic moments concerning his new girlfriend. Whenever they plan a romantic evening together something always interrupts them. Wiklund is Besson’s leggy blonde bombshell, a fellow inspector of Diefenthal’s who plays a German unimpressed by his advances. The other great roles are Manuela Gouray as Diefenthal’s mother who is Naceri’s first fare and the way the two of them meet, and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard as Naceri’s girlfriend.

The action elements definitely take second place to the comedy and that is the biggest difference from The Transporter. Naceri has a souped-up Peugeot that he uses to navigate around Marseille and a couple of his drives are fantastic, particularly his first one when he takes a nervous gentleman to the airport in record time. The final chase is good too, but it seems like it takes so long to get there that it lets some of the steam out of it. Naceri is also a solid dramatic actor, making a memorable appearance in Days of Glory (Indigénes) several years later for Jamel Debbouze--who would star himself in one of Besson’s greatest films, Angel-A. Taxi is a typical Luc Besson story that delivers action and comedy in equal doses but is a little uneven in their delivery. For Besson fans, however, any Besson is good Besson.

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